What are we meant to be doing?

Zoe Currie, University of East Anglia

What the Manifesto for Media Education Symposium seemed to be asking is how and what and why we should teach the media. These questions have been asked repeatedly but it is important.

How We Teach Media

At the Symposium, Jenny Grahame raised the difference between teaching about the media and teaching through the media. I think, like her and others at the symposium, that both Media Studies and Media Education are of a profound importance to what happens in the classrooms in our schools and colleges.

How we teach the media then requires a commitment by teachers of both Media Studies and teachers who use media to teach their subjects. Both involve different approaches and sometimes different skills obviously, but both are fundamentally using the media to teach about society, about the world we live and about the technology we use to participate in this world. In order to teach media, I don’t agree with Alison Pemberton’s point on this blog about media teachers needing to come from a media background. I don’t think that it belies the importance and credibility of the subject to have teachers from other backgrounds – if anything it informs the subject further. On top of that, I can’t imagine anyone is ‘forced’ into teaching the media. But then maybe I would say that because I didn’t come from a purely media background.

I became interested in using media texts such as film, television, storyboards and ultimately moving image as a means to get boys critically engaged in the de/construction of texts during my PGCE in English and Drama at the Institute of Education in London. I became a teacher of Media Studies as a result of my profound interest in the radical pedagogical aims of the subject in the late 90’s, influenced by through the work of Paolo Freire and Augosto Boal, the work being done in the English and Media Centre by Jenny Grahame as well as by my lecturers Anton Franks, Gunther Kress, David Buckingham and Jane Miller.

What We Teach

With the digital boom, I have gone from helping students crash edit in my Media Studies lessons to teaching Flash for sophisticated animations, Adobe premier for editing and Photoshop for desk top publishing. My students blog all their work, use tumblr to collate and share images and some tweet. All use Facebook to communicate, at times illicitly, in the classroom. However, while the technology changes the content of my lessons has to remain engaged in a critical analysis of media texts supported by a range of theoretical frameworks. The theory, the critical creativity, the study of society is essential otherwise the subject becomes empty: the reproduction of media texts with no critical questioning behind them. I might be teaching my students how to make a music video using a basic hand held cam corder and adobe premier editing but they could probably do that on their own. Indeed they might already be doing that. My role is to get them to question why music videos are made in a certain way using the frameworks of critical questioning: feminism, postmodernism, artistic and cultural movements, social and visual semiotics etc. All of this will move the video from a dodgy, sweded piece of work with no awareness of its own postmodernist intertextuality to a critically creative piece of work irrespective of quality of the technology.

Why We Teach Media

Media Studies has run the risk of festishising technology instead of reclaiming the content (Jenny Grahame). In my experience, I have worked in centres which have shifted from the critical to the purely techie ‘how to’ check list of skills; where I am the ‘theory girl’ and not involved in the practical work. I think the students work has suffered as a result of the theory becoming detached from the practical. We need to encourage students to become active ‘makers’ of media texts within the classroom, so that students became involved more readily in the actual process of critical analysis. This is supported by the claim from Jenkins (2009) that ‘educators have always known that students learn more through direct observation and experimentation than from reading about something in a textbook or listening to a lecture’. P42

However, this raises serious questions about what exactly happens in the classroom and therefore opens up the debate to a broader more exciting one concerning pedagogy.

“…emerging youth media programs have been motivated by the belief that engaging in media production should be the cornerstone of media education and lead to youth empowerment through the development of self expression.” p247 Lange and Ito

As the teacher’s role becomes that of facilitator then does school/college become just a formal time frame for students to hang out in? (Lange and Ito 2009). Does this lead to students becoming active learners following in the radical pedagogy of Freire and Boal? For the purposes of my doctoral research, by examining the pedagogical aims and learner outcomes of Media Studies, I hope to explore this enquiry.

The question here then is how educational institutions are going to adjust to that shift and whether students and teachers will still recognise/value it as ‘learning’.

Education designed by adults for children also has an unavoidably coercive dimension that is situated in a systematic power differential between adults and children. P.23 Lange, P. and Ito, M.

This comes back to Pemberton’s concern about untrained or non-specialist media teachers. Media Studies is situated between self taught/peer based learning which values youth expression and creativity, and the project briefs and aims of the teachers institutions and exam boards delivering it as an academic subject. This is the site then of intergenerational tension according to Lange and Ito; between adult autonomy and youth autonomy and educational and entertainment content (Ito 2007 cited in Lange and Ito 2009).The results of my research will hopefully lead me to an enquiry of whether the encouragement of self expression through digital practices on a media studies course will ever be viewed as a meaningful task by young people or simply a attempt by teachers to ‘get down with the kids’?


Buckingham, D. (2003) Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. Polity
Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society
Jenkins, H. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture MIT
Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age Routledge
Lange, P.D. and Ito, M. (2009) ed Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. MacArthur Foundation.
Moayeri, M. (2010) Classroom Uses of Social Network Sites: Traditional Practices of New Literacies? Digital Culture & Education, 2:1, 25-43

No Comments

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *